The major structural components of HIV-1 are encoded as a single polyprotein, Gag, which is sufficient for virus particle assembly. Initially, Gag forms an approximately spherical shell underlying the membrane of the immature particle. After proteolytic maturation of Gag, the capsid (CA) domain of Gag reforms into a conical shell enclosing the RNA genome. This mature shell contains 1,000-1,500 CA proteins assembled into a hexameric lattice with a spacing of 10 nm. By contrast, little is known about the structure of the immature virus. We used cryo-EM and scanning transmission EM to determine that an average (145 nm diameter) complete immature HIV particle contains approximately 5,000 structural (Gag) proteins, more than twice the number from previous estimates. In the immature virus, Gag forms a hexameric lattice with a spacing of 8.0 nm. Thus, less than half of the CA proteins form the mature core.
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